The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future: First Impressions

Since this session concerns the background to the emergence of “Israel” in Canaan the Mereneptah Stele is mentioned and shown several times, photo from Wikipedia

When Jacob Wright’s MOOC “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future” was announced and promoted I posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve enrolled and have begun the first week (the course started on Monday, but my first criticism is that I did not get an email reminder until I visited the course site again today – one of the biggest problems with MOOCs in my experience is lack of feedback for the student1 ).

Jacob is a fine teacher he keeps his material lively, and has an engaging presence and voice. The video “lectures” are broken into convenient chunks (of varied size from a couple of minutes to nearly a quarter of an hour2 which for me works well (as someone who as a teen would have been diagnosed ADHD, if the designation existed in those far off days, I have a short attention span and lectures bore me). Each is closed by one or two simple multichoice questions. This is brilliant, it gives the student instant feedback, and if we get them right instant reward and the sense that we are learning something. (Or if we are ourselves Hebrew Bible teachers at least the sense that we listened closely enough ;)

The videos make very skillful use of animated still shots of artifacts and places with the occasional video clip thrown in to create the sense of a video production. The technical values are as one would expect from an official university production.

That’s the good news, and if you are thinking of enrolling, do! The list is not yet closed, and if I have not yet learned much that is (to me) new, I have gained some interesting perspectives and ideas on how to put the material together. This is a MOOC for beginners that specialists can learn from! A fine achievement.

The bad news is that the videos are not optimised for viewing on tablets or phones. On my Phablet the screen resolution is small enough that the video (if played in the browser) overlaps the screen. I have tried the two different formats, and turning my screen around etc. but so far have not found a comfortable way to use the mobile device. (On a PC, even a netbook, all is fine, I guess university testers unlike poor adjunct faculty and students use phones with hi-res screens!)

At this stage I’ll also add a comment that perhaps reflects my context. Jacob uses a lot of Latin expressions, more than my usual audience of Kiwis, Pacific and Asian people would be comfortable with. I am not sure why, as usually the Latin expression is less familiar to me than kit’s English equivalent (like “divide and rule”) perhaps US audiences need “long words” to demonstrate academic credentials? It’s odd because in most ways the presentation is very simple and accessible with the few technical terms explained…

  1. see below. []
  2. so far. []

Tell the Bible Story in 3 minutes!

A group of us met last night to plot a video (probably narration with animation one of the group is a young, skilled and creative animator with friends who are similarly equipped) most of the rest of us are established pastors and teachers.

The goal is to develop something that is sharable on social media and/or websites, and hopefully therefore also attractive and motivating people to share it!

I’ll confess that our starting point was a discussion of an attempt to do something similar that was too long, not really attractive (we thought) to its target audience and theologically narrow.

We settled on the title (at least for our use) of “The Bible in 3 minutes” and envisage a countdown, to encourage people to stay tuned, and demonstrate our commitment to brevity ;) Jonathan says that 3 minutes is  about 300 words (allowing for something other than words and the desire not to gabble too ;) So here’s the challenge: Can you try to tell me the story of the Bible in 300 words?

The group will share these attempts (anonymously) on Google Docs and pick out the features/ideas we like. There is no pay, and little glory (in this life) on offer, but I’d really appreciate your efforts. I’ve already had some offers but so far every attempt has needed WAY over 300 words ;)

Two items on sex, sexuality and Sin

Two items relating to (mainly male, but see below) sexuality have been appearing on my Facebook feed. Together they have prompted this reflection, even if it should confirm Netguardian in their decision to filter this blog.1

The first concerns a man who during,  a “mission” to free children and women from enforced prostitution2 committed the sin of adultery. This is the  article Undercover investigator’s harrowing story. The issue being discussed was whether like Hayden Donnell (the author of the piece) we should see the man as a hero, or as a villain. Basically and crudely do we focus on his sin which (the story implies) wrecked his family, or on the children and women his actions save from degradation and suffering.

  The other was a video,  little discussed, “shared” and sometimes “liked” but not discussed:

Yet does this video not raise more and more practical questions?

It seems to me that the research Jessica Rey cites (which I have not seen and am taking her word for, unless you know differently) describes the male human as sinful (i.e. subject to the power of Sin, in this particular case leading, if not effectively resisted, to sexual sins)3  As many commentators on the “undercover investigator” article noted sex is indeed a besetting sin of (many or most, at least) male humans. The video also implies, however, that there may be a complementary female besetting sin, of seeking to arouse male lust. This notion is of course abhorrent to many/most women: Can’t you men control yourselves?!

The short answer is we can, and some of us (so far) have, but your actions and the general behaviour our society finds acceptable do not make it easy. Cheap, ubiquitous, multimedia communications exacerbate this problem. We have this problem because our society refuses to recognise that humans are sinful, inclined towards wrong. To cling to the, demonstrably false, notion that humans are ‘naturally’ good does us all a disservice. It contributes to the sexual slavery of women and even children, and also to the different (and yes, less severe and self-inflicted) sexual slavery of (many) men. 4

  1. A friend told me yesterday that he was unable to access the posts below as Netguardian perceived it as falling in the category: “Category: Pornography
    Description: Sites that portray sexual acts, activity, nudity, toys, stories/writings, beastiality, fetishes, videos, etc.”

    This has been appealed and hopefully this post will not confirm their view that my blog should be filtered.

    NB: I am not complaining about Netguardian, such filter services are useful for reasons that the post above should make quite clear. []

  2. By gathering evidence to present to the authorities. []
  3. NB. I distinguish here, ‘Sin’ using an initial capital, as the power which Paul says is at work in us undermining our best intentions and releasing our worst, see e.g. Rom 7, and ‘sin’ some particular wrong act which hurts us and/or others. []
  4. This post Generation Porn was also in my feed, yesterday. []

Automatic captions and a sermon on making sense of Revelation

As part of my move to deliver the screencast versions of 5 minute Bible via You Tube I’ve been looking closely at the automatic captions the system offers. Basically I go in and tidy them up. Some are atrocious, making out I swear or say the most outlandish things. I’m not sure whether it’s my strange (British, close to “Received Pronunciation”) accent or whether it’s the topics. Certainly You Tube has less problems with Beatrix Potter’s stories than with my 5 minute Bible episodes… though again this could be the difference between a text read and one spoken from notes…

The biggest tasks have been the sermons. I did the one I posted the other day almost straight away,  today I did this one on making sense of Revelation.

The advantage I hope to gain is accessibility. Both for humans with hearing issues, and for the great and powerful Googlebot. If the transcripts actually say what the audio says, then surely Google will direct better traffic my way (as in people who are actually interested in topics like making sense of Revelation, and not what Laurie Guy called the goofy stuff).

Popular podcasting

For years it was hard to draw listeners (except a faithful few) to podcasts, while blogs attracted visitors lie nectar draws in bees. However, at last this seems to be changing. 5 minute Bible is now (according to Alexa) more popular than Sansblogue among biblical studies sites. And it regularly attracts also a number of people on Facebook.

I wonder if it is because recently I’ve been posting there more often than here, or does it mark a tidal shift in Internet usage as phones and pads become more common?

Either way I hope it leads people to my series based on Not Only a Father. The first four posts are available as Guest Posts on Sarcaparental:

and as screencasts or audio on 5 Minute Bible:

And of course the whole book Not Only a Father is still available here (in e-format where you can discuss it with others or me) and as a paperback.

 

Learning Creative Learning

I’ve signed up for the MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC (Massively Open Online Course). There are apparently 25,000 of us, though at present it is all a bit confusing and seems slow to start. I’ll use posts here to reflect both on what I learn, and on the process. Since the first week got off to a somewhat shambolic and slow start this post will be mainly about the process.

The course is organised by the MIT Media Lab, and has onsite for credit students as well as us free and distributed hangers-on. MIT can probably not be blamed, but because1 I could not enroll automatically and because like many others I only heard about the course a few days ago,  I got the welcome email after the first live session was over.2 Not getting the email till this morning, and wanting to watch the lecture and do the required reading early in the process I have yet to really explore the G+ “community” or to discover what else I can (am supposed?) to do.

If this sounds a little jaundiced, it may be, because the introductory lecture was frankly boring for the first half hour or so. Fifteen minutes of faffing around, some with guy mumbling about whatever came into his head, while his associate sat beside him looking pretty but silent, then after some random shots of someone’s chest and a black screen, the main act appeared and he began to faff around in his turn.3 I guess the video was intended to give me a sense of a class with a teacher, and to inspire me with the importance of the material. It failed. It was a strong reminder that we seldom put enough thought into our first session, it’s a chance to achieve several significant things:

  • sell students on the importance and value of the course
  • explain how each week works, and show people where things are4
  • and (perhaps) begin to introduce some key concepts or information

The reading:

Mitchel Resnick (2007). All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten. ACM Creativity & Cognition conference.     

Did a good job of selling the Media Lab and some of their projects. I am keen to get on with the course. The outline promises: “At the end of every session, we will post more details to help your prepare for the next session and participate in the activities. The trouble is I have not yet found out where that information is :( So, it’s back into the jungle of G+ in an attempt to find out…

 

  1. Like many other people, to judge by the comments on G+, I wonder why their system was so fragile or poorly tested? []
  2. Actually I doubt I’d get up at 4am to watch a video that I can watch anytime, and apart from any private arrangements people may make the back channel seems slow and little used – there was almost no sign of presenters adjusting or responding to the audience. []
  3. I wonder who he was? Phill Schmitt and some others were introduced, but the star remained anonymous. []
  4. But remember to give them the details in a document! I still don’t have a simple course outline that lists important URLs and the reading list etc. together in one place :( []

Publication

My videos on You Tube have passed 250,000 views recently. Since this takes no account of the views on Facebook or on 5 minute Bible this form of publication clearly reaches places conventional “publishing” cannot reach ;)

TV on You Tube

Shine TV1 has a new series (starting tomorrow evening at 8pm) Just Thinking. It’s a bit different from much TV, as its aim is to get people thinking through big issues. It is also a bit different as Shine are putting key clips on You Tube in advance, and hoping that these will generate discussion and comment that can feed into the program.

[Declaration of Interest: I was interviewed for a later program on marriage.]

The first, tomorrow at 8pm is on secularism or is/should NZ be a “secular society” among the clips is an hour’s program from the University of Otago’s centre for Theology and Public Issues:

As well as shorter clips.

  1. Shine is available free-to-air in NZ on Freeview satellite, they say channel 24, but I found it on 129 ;) []